DIY Development Tubes For Large Format B&W Film Using Pyrocat HD and Semi-Stand Development

March 26, 2017  •  3 Comments

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I have been developing my films (black and white, color negative C-41, color slides E-6) on a Jobo processor for many years.  I also use my Jobo for RA-4 color print development.  

One of the things that I love most about analog photography is that we never stop learning.  It would take ten lifetimes to master everything that I want to know.  

In this article, I am sharing the approach that I took to create my DIY development tubes that I intend to use with the semi-stand development process using Pyrocat HD.  These tubes could be used for any number of approaches to develop large format black and white sheet film. 

SEMI-STAND DEVELOPMENT WITH PYROCAT HD

A photographer must work through the process in their own darkroom in the context of their environment and unique creative vision in order to fully achieve the benefits associated with semi-stand development using Pyrocat HD.  In other words, I could freely share my "development times and processes", but it doesn't mean it will work for anyone else.  

In case you are not aware, the type of negative required for making silver gelatin large format contact prints is different than the negatives required for platinum printing.  To fully explain the differences is beyond the scope of this article, however, if you are interested in a deeper understanding, Sandy King has written a good article about Pyrocat HD that helps explain the concept.  In effect, a silver gelatin print requires a negative of approximately .50 contrast index (CI) and platinum requires a negative of about .70 CI.  But, for me, it is more than just a quest for the proper contrast index.  I want a better representation of mid-tones in my prints and this is something that is not inherently easy to do.  

WHY I WANTED TO PURSUE SEMI-STAND AND PYROCAT HD

My interest in semi-stand development using Pyrocat HD is two-fold.  First, I would like to produce a negative that provides me the opportunity create a print (silver gelatin or platinum) with more tonality in the mid-tones which helps create a visual presence that is often missing in most prints.  Second, I would like to be able to use one negative for both silver gelatin and platinum prints because I have been exposing two sheets of film (one for silver gelatin, one for platinum) for many years and this is very costly and requires a lot more time in the darkroom.

Doing some testing on semi-stand development with Pyrocat HDDoing some testing on semi-stand development with Pyrocat HDSubscribe to my free Newsletter and never miss another article or update.

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I consulted with Steve and I did my homework in order to develop 5 sheets of film (4 sheets of FP4+ and 1 sheet of Kodak Ektascan B/RA X-Ray) using Pyrocat HD and the semi-stand development methodology.  

Semi-stand basically means that you introduce initial agitation of your film during the development process after a pre-soaking period, then you leave your film stand for a period of time, then apply minimal agitation for a short cycle about half way through the total development time, and then one more towards the end of the cycle.  

I developed my films for 30 minutes at 70F/21C.  

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I had a couple errors that I needed to correct, mostly due to not being able to get the full volume of developer into all 5 of the development vessels fast enough, but I was able to determine my first goal (better mid-tones) was clearly much better.  When I compared the negatives developed with D-76 1:1 on my Jobo to the semi-stand Pyrocat HD negatives, I was actually blown away at the acutance, and the tonality and openness of the shadows in mid-tones of the negatives.  

I was most surprised by the tonality and details in my mid-tones of my X-Ray film.  If I didn't know the negative I was looking at was X-Ray film, I would have guessed it to be regular black and white sheet film.  I knew in this moment that I had to investigate this method in more detail.  

Now, my goal is to explore and see if I can create a negative that is suitable for both silver gelatin contact prints and pure platinum prints.  

If you would like to explore semi-stand development with Pyrocat HD, then you are going to need some tubes to develop your large format sheet film.  I used my Jobo 8x10 expert drum as a place to start testing, but based on the inability to get the developer into the tank fast enough, I knew I needed a new approach if I was going to get the types of results that I need for my work.  In the section below, I provided detailed notes on my development tube construction process and materials that I used.  

PVC DEVELOPMENT TUBE OVERVIEW

Making development tubes for large format film from PVC pipeMaking development tubes for large format film from PVC pipeSubscribe to my free Newsletter and never miss another article or update.

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For 11x14 sheet film, I use 4-inch PVC pipe.  For 8x10 and Whole Plate (6.5" x 8.5") sheet film, I use 3-inch PVC pipe.  For 5x7 and 4x5, I use 2-inch PVC pipe.  I prefer to use electrical (gray) PVC because it is UV light safe.  My hardware store did not carry electrical PVC in a 4-inchch diameter, so I was forced to get regular schedule 40 PVC pipe for my 11x14 development tubes. I work inside a controlled darkroom, so this should not be a problem.   

I cut my 8x10/Whole Plate pipes to 11 inches, 5x7 tubes to 8 inches, and 4x5 tubes to 6 inches.  It should be obvious that I cut the PVC pipe one inch longer than the long side of my sheet film.  I do this because I want there to be enough developer in the tube to adequately cover the film.  

As a first step, I cut all of the PVC pipes to the proper length with a circular saw to ensure the cuts were clean and also square.  Next, I washed all of the pipes in soapy water to make sure all of the dirt and debris were removed before moving on to the next steps. My plan is to build some sort of a stand to place the tubes in while they are in the semi-stand portion of the development process.  I have an idea on how I plan to do this, but I haven't built it yet.  The 8x10 tubes have a flat bottom, so I will be able to stand those on my counter in the darkroom, however, the 2-inch tubes have a bottom cap that is slightly rounded forcing the issue of a stand.  

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Next, I used PVC primer and cement to attach a bottom cap on all of my development tubes.  If you are not familiar with how to properly use PVC cement, then read the instructions carefully and follow them because you don't want any leaks with your development tubes.  

At this point, I had PVC tubes that are the proper length and diameter for my sheet film sizes with a bottom cap in place.  In order to process the sheet films, a top is required.  There are a couple of choices and this is why I listed the options in the caps and adapters section for each diameter of PVC pipe in the section below.  

DEVELOPMENT OPTIONS

DIY Large Format Sheet Film Development TubesDIY Large Format Sheet Film Development TubesSubscribe to my free Newsletter and never miss another article or update.

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The first and easiest option is to load the films inside a development tube inside a changing tent or in total darkness and put a rubber quick cap on the top.  Now the film is light safe and you can proceed with the semi-stand development process using Pyrocat HD (pre-soak film for 5 min, developer, stop, fix, wash).  Using this method, you would need total darkness to pour in the distilled water for the pre-soak and also for the developer.  This means that you need to have a container/jug that holds the right volume of distilled water and developer ready to go at the right temperature.  After the development stage, it is safe to work in dim/distant light for the stop, fix, washing stages.  Many photographers don't realize that after development, the film isn't very reactive to light and this is why it is possible to continue the development process in a low-light environment.  I just simply work with my normal safelights.  

The second option is to use two tubes for the development process.  I learned about this approach from Tim Jones.  One tube would have a female adapter (film tube # 1) and the second tube would have a male adapter (tube # 2) and would hold the developer.  The idea is to pre-soak your film in tube #1 and have the developer staged into tube #2.  In total darkness, after dumping the distilled water out of tube #1, you would screw the developer tube #2 into tube #1 and quickly invert it.  By using this method, the developer quickly and evenly covers your film, which is exactly what you want.  

In the section below, I have included the cost of materials in USA dollars that I incurred to build my DIY development tubes.  I will follow up with another article after I complete more testing.  

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MY MATERIAL COSTS

  • PVC PIPE
  • 4-inch Schedule 40 PVC Pipe - $4.65 per foot 
  • 3-inch Electrical Schedule 40 PVC - $1.59 per foot 
  • 2-inch Electrical Schedule 40 PVC - $0.65 per foot 
  • CEMENT
  • PVC Primer & Cement - $7.38
  • 4-inch Caps
  • 4-inch Rubber Quick Cap - $3.98
  • 4-inch Slip Bottom Cap - $7.71
  • 3-inch Caps & Adapters
  • 3-inch Female Adapter - $3.20
  • 3-inch Cleanout Plug - $1.62
  • 3-inch Male Adapter - $2.99
  • 3-inch Rubber Quick Cap - $3.35
  • 2-inch Caps & Adapters
  • 2-inch Female Adapter - $1.53
  • 2-inch Cleanout Plug - $0.75
  • 2-inch Male Adapter - $1.18
  • 2-inch Rubber Quick Cap - $2.75

Get my Free Darkroom Newsletter and never miss an update again. Subscribe to my annual Tim Layton Fine Art Darkroom Chronicle and receive all of my articles curated into a beautifully formatted PDF eBook every year.  View my learning materials for darkroom and large format photographers that include video workshops, eBooks, and quick reference cards. Purchase copies of the Darkroom Underground Magazine.

-Tim Layton 

Tim Layton
Darkroom & Large Format Photography
Platinum Histograph Heirloom Prints & MiniaturesTM

Comments

Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Stephen, I think I listed the plug in one of the other update articles - but here is what I am talking about - Amazon.com Link -> https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000LG4V1M/
Stephen Hartsfield(non-registered)
I also have the BTZS tube system. I am not very concerned about the fill time as I have had experience with the old 4x5 tank systems that require you to pour in the chemicals (and drain out the bottom) and I have never experienced any uneven development that I can measure on my densitometer. However, I would need one tube filled with developer and another holding my negative. This would cut down on the number of sheets I could do at one time. Now, what is the clean out plug for, it's not mentioned in your article?
Rolf Schmolling(non-registered)
Hi Tim, really interesting. I wonder if BTZS tubes (I have a set for 4x5) would be usable. Then, I have to look for a place in Europe to get (readymade) Pyrokat developer, so far nil. Cheers, Rolf
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